Sam Middleton & Jasmine Stone, Campaigning Stratford Mothers
Jasmine & her daughter Safia
No-one could fail to respect the courage shown recently by the young mothers of Stratford who, after eviction from the E15 Focus hostel, took possession of a pair of vacant council houses on the Carpenter’s Estate next to the former Olympic site. So last week Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I went over to meet two of the protagonists – close friends Sam Middleton & Jasmine Stone – and hear their story in their own words.
Their audacious gesture ignited a flashpoint in current social policy, both in this Olympic borough and nationwide, as councils seek to balance the books by selling off housing stock to those wishing to exploit the commercial potential of these assets upon the open market. The outcome is a shortage of accommodation and, in this equation, developers’ profits come at the human cost of those most in need of a place to live.
“When I heard the Olympics were coming to Stratford, I was happy and I felt optimistic because I thought there would be lots of jobs, and maybe I’d be able to get a job and a house,” Sam Middleton admitted to me, “But when the Olympics came, I was unable to find a job and it was while I was living in the hostel that I found I was pregnant.”
“The athletes’ village was supposed to become social housing, but then they swapped that idea for ‘affordable’ housing, which is 80% of the market rate,” added Jasmine with a wry grin.
The distinguishing quality of this pair is that, although they have found themselves on the rough end of policy, they have stubbornly refused to become of victims of the circumstance. The two young mothers have forged a bond of friendship, acquiring a confident political awareness and articulacy that is startling to encounter.“We met at the hostel and we’ve been best friends ever since. I think we could easily win the three-legged race,” Jasmine assured me.
“19th October last year was the date of my eviction from the E15 hostel and 20th October was the due date for my baby, but he was a week late,” Sam explained, “It was only because we made the front page of the papers that they extended our eviction notices and we got short-term accommodation in Newham.”
“They said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to go to the seaside?’ and they offered me accommodation in Margate, Birmingham or Manchester, but I could never leave London, I want to be near my family” Jasmine told me, “My nan was born here and my mum was born here, and I’ve never lived anyone else but Newham.”
Looking beyond her own situation, Jasmine explained to me that one hundred and eighty vulnerable young people were evicted from the E15 hostel without any support and four who are known to her are now living on the street. Meanwhile, Newham Council has four hundred vacant council homes including three almost unoccupied tower blocks on the Carpenter’s Estate in the centre of Stratford. Many have been boarded up for years with the upper windows open to accelerate decay. She believes that the council were awaiting the opportunity to sell the estate to a developer to build luxury flats while local people are deprived of homes. “It’s the gentrification of London,” she confided to me.
The fortnight’s occupation of two of these houses by a group of the young mothers, which is now over, was a protest against the injustice of this state of affairs that succeeded in winning widespread public support.
As we were talking, Jasmine received a phone call with the unexpected news that the council is now refurbishing forty houses on the Carpenter’s Estate to open up for the use of those in need. It was a cathartic moment for the pair and a validation of their protest which brought this about. “If they’re opening up forty houses, they can open up the rest of them,” she exclaimed in joy, exchanging a triumphant smile with Sam.
“I didn’t have a political bone in my body, until I was pregnant and I got handed the eviction notice and I woke up to this whole world of corruption.” Sam confessed to me, flushed with delight. “I think it’s changed us for the better because we’ve learnt that you can get your voice heard. You don’t just have to take things, you can stand up for your rights,” Jasmine continued victoriously, “It’s not just us that have nowhere to live, it’s people across the country. We’ve learnt not to give up and I don’t see myself turning back now. We’re going to go on fighting. We don’t want to be the Mayor of Newham, we want to be the Mothers of Newham!”
Sam Middleton - “We just want somewhere safe and secure we can call home”
The recent occupation of the empty houses on the Carpenter’s Estate
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
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